Women in India have always been determined and forthright when it comes to business. With a sharp mindset and great resilience, they know how to maneuver the biggest of challenges and emerge victorious.
Even though a global health crisis like the coronavirus pandemic paralysed life and work in more ways than one, 2020 was no different for several women leaders who stood out for their contribution to the country. Most of them were either working on the frontlines, or achieved significant milestones, even during the pandemic.
Let’s take a look at some of these trailblazers:
Bengaluru-based digital marketer Mahita Nagaraj turned the crisis into an opportunity, and brought people together to help and support each other. Through her initiative, Caremongers India, she united around 28,000 volunteers from across the country to help fellow citizens in this period of distress.
When the lockdown was announced in March, it was difficult for most senior citizens and those suffering from medical conditions to step out – that’s when she decided to establish an organisation to assist people. Mahita claims that within the first 24 hours of the helpline becoming operational, the team received over 350 calls.
This is not the first time Mahita is involved with a social cause. Earlier in 2015, she organised the ‘Feed Your Neighbour’ initiative on Facebook. By mobilising the community, she had managed to feed 1,22,937 meals to the hungry at the time.
Minal Dakhave Bhosale
In a remarkable feat, Mylab’s Research and Development Chief, Minal Dakhave Bhosale, developed one of India’s first coronavirus testing kits called Patho Detect, in just six weeks. This was when she had just delivered a baby girl, and had left the hospital with pregnancy complications. With a passion to serve her nation, she juggled both her personal and professional responsibilities to make this project a success. The kit gives the diagnosis in just two-and-a-half hours while the imported testing kits take six to seven hours.
Mylabs Discovery Solutions also makes testing kits for HIV and Hepatitis B and C, and other diseases.
The Executive Chairperson and Managing Director of Biocon, India’s largest biopharmaceutical company, has always served as an inspiration for women all over the world, and yet again, in 2020, she was one of the few who led from the front in the fight against coronavirus.
Biocon led the race among pharmaceuticals to develop test kits and conduct clinical trials for drugs that can combat COVID-19. Syngene International Ltd, which is the company’s research arm, developed an ELISA antibody testing kit and also tied up with HiMedia Laboratories to manufacture and distribute the kits. Biocon also started clinical trials for the drug Itolizumab to treat complications in severe cases of coronavirus.
In fact, the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) also gave a nod to Biocon’s plaque psoriasis drug - Itolizumab - for “restricted emergency use” for COVID-19 patients, who showed moderate-to-severe acute respiratory issues.
For her immense contribution during the crisis, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw made it to several lists – she was named EY World Entrepreneur of the Year for 2020. She was also on the list of Fortune India’s Most Powerful Business Women in 2020, and was recognised as the second wealthiest woman in India (with a net worth of Rs 36,600 crore), according to Hurun India and Kotak Wealth Management’s ‘Kotak Wealth Hurun – Leading Wealthy Women’ report.
Roshni Nadar Malhotra
Roshni Nadar Malhotra became the first woman to head a listed Indian IT company as she took over as the Chairperson of $8.9 billion HCL Technologies from her father Shiv Nadar. Roshni, 38, has now replaced her father who founded the company in 1976. She joined the board of HCL Technologies in 2013, and was Vice-Chairperson before that.
Highly academically-oriented, Roshni completed her MBA from the Kellogg School of Management in the US, and is an alumnus of the World Economic Forum's Forum of Young Global Leaders initiative.
She was recently named India's richest woman with a net worth of Rs 54,850 crore, according to a report released by Kotak Wealth Management and Hurun India. Roshni was ranked 54th in Forbes World's 100 Most Powerful Women list in 2019.
She is also the Chairperson of VidyaGyan, an initiative under the aegis of Shiv Nadar Foundation. VidyaGyan aims to provide education and leadership training to the economically backward students of rural India and bring them on par with their urban counterparts.
She was one of the leading faces in the fight against COVID-19, with her brand Apollo Hospitals taking charge of the situation. India’s biggest hospital chain, it clocked a gross revenue of over Rs 10,000 crore in 2020, allocated over 2,000 beds for COVID-19 patients – which included 1,000 ICU beds or about 15-20 percent of its overall capacity. Besides, they treated close to 37,000 patients (as of September 14, 2020), and conducted more than 150,000 tests, as per Fortune India.
Its biggest achievement was to keep the mortality rate below 1 percent, and they emerged victorious in their goal.
Sunita, for all her remarkable feats, made it to Fortune India’s Most Powerful Business Women in 2020 list.
With schools being shut almost the entire year due to the lockdown, e-learning took precedence. Several edtech organisations looked at this time as an opportunity to scale up and expand their offerings. Leading this race was BYJU’S founded by Byju Raveendran and Divya Gokulnath. The edtech startup crossed $10 billion in valuation.
The company cashed in on huge investor interest in edtech, and raised $122 million from DST Global, the investment fund headed by tech billionaire Yuri Milner. In 2020 so far, BYJU’S has raised about $545 million across four Series F rounds, including $200 million each from Tiger Global and General Atlantic.
Over the years, Divya has emerged as powerful icon in women leadership. Divya believes that equality and diversity is easier to achieve if they're integrated at the inception of a company, and today Byju is proud to have over 50% of women in leadership roles at its core.
The story of Nita Ambani, Non-Executive Director, Reliance Industries, and Co-owner, Mumbai Indians, is one of resounding success. The first lady of India Inc is a “powerhouse” in her own right, and unlike several billionaire wives who have been under the shadow of their husbands, Nita is someone who has an equal footing, and has proved to be one of the most credible women entrepreneurs today. She is the Founder and Chairperson of Reliance Foundation, the CSR arm of Reliance Industries.
She is also the owner of one of IPL’s leading teams, Mumbai Indians, a four-time winner of the tournament. The brand has a value of a little over $800 crore, as of 2019.
Nita grabbed the first spot in Fortune India’s Most Powerful Business Women in 2020 list.
Fortune India calls Zia Mody the “undisputed queen of corporate law”, and rightly so. Reliance Industries raised a large part of its funding during the lockdown for Jio Platforms, with the support of their legal representative, AZB and Partners. Moreover, Zia’s firm also went out of the way to advise Reliance on its huge $7 billion rights issue, which was finally resolved in June this year.
AZB also helped to restructure the controversial and troubled YES Bank.
Zia’s firm is an integral part of several committees that are a part of the Ministry of Corporate Affairs, which primarily deals with the Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code. AZB & Partners also represents the Resolution Professional in Jet Airways’ ongoing insolvency proceedings.
Renu Sud Karnad
The Managing Director of HDFC Limited, Renu Sud Karnad, is the epitome of strength and resilience. According to Fortune India, “the housing finance giant is the largest mobiliser of retail deposits in India, with outstanding deposits worth Rs 1,32,324 crore as of March 2020.”
Just like several industries, the real estate sector received a major jolt during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in a large blow. Trying to take stock of the situation, HDFC instead began to turn its attention towards affordable housing in Tier-II towns and below by amplifying the benefits of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojana (PMAY) scheme.
HDFC has assisted almost 100,000 families under the PMAY scheme in the last year.
“While the lockdown brought business to a near standstill, disbursements in June and July saw month-on-month jumps of 68 percent and 81 percent, respectively. Despite the increased volumes, there has been no let-up in HDFC’s diligence and prudence,” noted Fortune India in one of its research reports.
(Edited by Kanishk)